Without a doubt all of us could enjoy a round-table discussion about all of the virtues and varieties of French cheeses. Today, I share three of my favorite French creations that are elegant staples for almost any recipe or soirée.
French Brie is a natural starting point – the so-called “Le Roi des Fromages” (King of Cheese) in France. This esteemed cheese won a championship nearly 200 years ago, and the title has remained intact.
Produced from creamy cow’s milk cheese that is soft ripened, Brie has enjoyed continuous adulation from the 8th century. The two Bries awarded AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) classification – Brie de Meux and Brie de Melun – are not permitted to be imported into the United States, because they are made from raw milk. (Notes about U.S. restrictions later!) Fortunately, we still are able to enjoy imported Bries with slight production variations. The creamy mild flavor is ideal for those of us who turn away from ultra-strong flavors.
I know a nice little wine bar that offers brie warmed with a touch of brown sugar and pecans and served with a small baguette and slices of apple. Très délicieux and one of our delectable favorites to serve at home!
Another soft-ripened cheese from Normandy, Camembert has been popular since the late 19th century. Sold in a quaint, round wooden box, the fragile cheese is well-protected in shipping and thus enjoyed around the world. Like Brie, it is an AOC-certified cheese made from raw milk that is adjusted for American importing. Camembert is slightly stronger than Brie but pairs just as well with nuts, bread and fruit.
Now we come to my all-time favorite, though that’s a stretch isn’t it – choosing one delicious cheese over another? And that would be Gruyère de Comte, a wonderful French Alpine cheese that is equally revered by the Swiss – who create their own version. Dating to the 12th century, Gruyère de Comte currently enjoys the highest production of all French cheese with AOC protection.
Again, a cow’s milk cheese (I seem to be quite partial to the bovine cheeses), it is pale ivory, semi-hard, formed in wheels and aged for about 12 months in mountain caves. The exceptional flavor tends to be sweet and nutty; though, as with all cheeses, can vary in taste according to the location, production techniques and time of year. Gruyère is absolutely the cheese of choice for many soufflés, gratins and fondues, but we also love it plain and simple with bread or fruit.
As I mentioned before, U.S. regulations affect the importing of French cheese, a slightly amusing fact given our ongoing recalls of everything from peanut butter to healthy, iron-rich spinach! C’est la vie! If you don’t have a good local market that carries premium French cheeses, go on line to familiarize yourself with gourmet cheese providers. An exceptional source for learning about all types of cheeses by color, texture, country and more is cheese.com.
And by all means when you are in France, make it a point to shop in your neighborhood or market fromagerie – a heavenly experience!
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